Throw Out the Rule Book

Forget (almost) all the laws of merchandising when throwing a going-out-of-business sale

Visual presentation — for a liquidation sale? Who cares: You’re closing! Right? But there is more to a successful closing than plastering the store with signs.

A successful closing sale needs to feel like a celebration. For customers to feel comfortable coming in, they need to know this is not a funeral but a sale that will benefit them. The last thing people want to do is pay their condolences, then try to bargain for a better deal. While those people are out there, the majority tends to be more caring — especially if they are longtime customers.

There are a lot of positive reasons to close a store: retirement, need for a larger space or moving to a better location with lower rent. What customers don’t know is if the closing is for a negative reason like poor business, illness, death or legal issues. If it’s one of the positive reasons, let people know why you are closing. If it’s negative, don’t tell unless you’re asked.

When you hold a closing sale, throw out the visual merchandising rulebook. People expect the store to look disorganized and picked over. It gives a sense of urgency to see that things are moving fast. Customers get the concept of, “Buy it now because it won’t be here later.” If everything is neat, it makes your sale feel like a failure or even a sham. While you can ignore being neat, never ignore staying clean. If your store and products look and feel dusty, it makes the merchandise feel less valuable. Especially if it’s a spa unit! Even accessories need to be dusted regularly during a closing sale. Don’t burn bridges with your customers. People remember final impressions, and if you want to open again or try another business venture at some point, their last impressions should be good ones.

Dump tables are standard fixtures for a big sale. These can be special tables with sides or folding tables. Rather than spending money on tables with sides, cut (fresh) cardboard boxes to the heights you need for each category of merchandise. For example, an open box that’s 6 inches high would work well for a bunch of leftover filters. The size of the box would depend on how many you have to sell. It’s not a fancy solution, but it will keep the different categories neat and organized, which will help customers more easily find what they need. And, you can put them on existing folding tables without spending the money for fancy ones. Also, there’s no need for tablecloths of any kind.

There are a lot of closing signs available online. Most are yellow and red for a good reason. Bright yellow is the first color people notice; it’s also the color of optimism and affordability. Red says “Sale!” and encourages impulse buys. A medium/light blue is used for liquidation sales — pun intended. Blues and greens recede and are only seen from a distance with some effort. If you use blue or green, add some yellow or red. Neon orange will work as well, and it says “cheap.” Plaster your windows with signs. This is not the time to cheap out with one lonely sign. If you need to sell everything, make it visible from the moon!

Adding red, yellow and your logo color helium balloons outside will generate attention. The balloons will move, and that’s what people notice first. It’s a pity to waste your money on balloons blocked by cars. Get them up higher than the highest car in the parking lot or on the street. If you want to get more bang for your buck, invest in Mylar balloons. They last a long time and will probably last as long as your closing sale. If you can bring them in each night, their longevity is guaranteed.

In the spirit of a celebration, give out cookies. These will engage peoples’ sense of taste and they’ll stay in your store longer and browse more thoroughly. If possible, rent a cookie oven and buy Otis Spunkmeyer Chocolate Chunk bagged cookie dough. Trust me, it’s amazing. The wafting scent of freshly baked cookies will do more to keep people in your store than anything else. Offer cold bottles of water. It’s inexpensive and will be very appreciated by both cookie and noncookie eaters. It’s a gift to your customers and entirely unexpected for a closing sale.

Throw out the rulebook and spend a little more to make a lot more. Best of luck with your future endeavors!

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